To What Degree Do You Know What You Believe?

To What Degree Do You Know What You Believe?

Interestingly, most people have no idea what they really believe. Oh sure, everyone claims some religious affiliation or that they follow some particular philosophy. But just because an individual self-identifies with a belief system does not mean that they are faithful believers.

Let’s take a simple example from our Christian faith. How many people do you know who claim to be Christians but: 1) they don’t live as if Christ is their Lord, and/or 2) they cannot even explain the basic tenets of the Christian faith? In Christian circles, we are well aware of cases like this, and those of us who do try to faithfully live out our faith are distressed at the inconsistencies we see in those people (and are perhaps even troubled to see it in ourselves). For example, there are many who claim to be Christians but live with a partner outside of marriage, participate in various forms of substance abuse, don’t worship with other believers or pray, and the list could go on.

But this problem is not limited to the Christian faith. I believe it is accurate to say that this is the default for virtually every faith. In fact, the exceptions are the small percentage of people who have put forth the extra effort to specifically understand the faith they claim to follow and aggressively live by it.

The problem being described, here, has its roots in the concept of worldview. A worldview is the absolute most foundational set of beliefs that an individual holds. These are the beliefs which actually define one’s understanding of reality and, for most people, they are totally and completely unconscious. That being said, they form the foundation for an individual’s thoughts and actions.

So, what we end up with is a situation in which the vast majority of people live by a set of beliefs which they are not consciously aware of – their worldview beliefs. What they are aware of is a more surface set of beliefs that they feel an association with because of what they were taught growing up or what they picked up from family or society in the process of living life – generally some religion or philosophy. The problem is, the worldview beliefs (normally unconscious) and the claimed religious/philosophical association (conscious beliefs) do not usually match up. Thus, we end up with a situation where the great majority of people say they believe one thing, but live life as if they believed something else. Most do have some level of awareness of an inner tension or guilt because of this inconsistency, but have no idea why it exists or what to do about it.

I have already mentioned the situation in which many who claim to be Christians actually live by beliefs which are not Christian. But this problem is not limited to Christians. Here is an example of a person I had an interaction with who claimed to be an Animist.

Niki
I’m a hylozoic animist, if you must know. I believe in a self-organizing, independent universe that doesn’t need a God to look after it. Everything that exists around us is wondrous and multivariate; the only reason we have notions of the “supernatural” is because we fail to see that the observable universe is still is already a magical thing. I treat animals (and people) with respect because of their spectacular complexity, and I consider complexity to be the most desirable of all traits.

Freddy
And you know this how? What evidence do you have that your belief represents reality at all? It is not true just because you believe it. Do you have any kind of demonstrable evidence at all? There is such a thing as an actual way reality is structured, and I am not aware of any evidence that hylozolism represents that truth.

Niki
And I love Herbert Spencer.

Freddy
So you are not truly an Animist? If you think Spencer is right, you have either hybridized in some Naturalism or abandoned Animism altogether. If you believe a hybridized worldview position, your beliefs are internally contradictory and cannot be true. If you truly agree with Spencer, you are not really an Animist. Now I really don’t know why you are so offended. You have not even been defending an authentic animistic worldview position.

Now, I realize that you may have never heard of hylozolism and don’t know of Herbert Spencer (though if you want to find out about them you can look them up easily). But that doesn’t really matter to get at the point here. The issue at hand does not require that we become philosophers in order to get our own thinking straightened out. The point is, even this random “Animist” has conflicts and contradictions within his own worldview system.

The truth is, faithful Christians are striving in this arena all the time. We are constantly trying to recognize and overcome the inconsistencies between what we say we believe and the way we live. We call it spiritual growth. We all recognize that there are parts of our understanding and lifestyle that do not match up with biblical teachings. As we grow spiritually, we grasp this conflict more fully and work to align our lives with what God has revealed in Scripture.

As Christians in our modern culture, we are drawn away from a true Christian life by forces which are completely unconscious, and we need to make it all conscious. We can do it by understanding worldview and its practical implications for our lives. When we do, we put ourselves in a position to not only know how we ought to live, but we gain an inner perspective which helps us understand why biblical faith is the truth. We also gain confidence for living out that faith, as well as the ability to be effective in sharing the truth of the gospel with those outside of a relationship with Christ.

© 2012 Freddy Davis